Tuesday, July 20, 2010


From The Gospel of Mel Gibson
In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.


The narcissistic person is marked by a grandiose self-image, a constant need for admiration, and a general lack of empathy for others. He is the keeper of a sacred flame, which is the flame he holds to celebrate himself.

There used to be theories that deep down narcissists feel unworthy, but recent research doesn’t support this. Instead, it seems, the narcissist’s self-directed passion is deep and sincere.

His self-love is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right. He is hypersensitive about anybody who might splatter or disregard his greatness. If someone treats him slightingly, he perceives that as a deliberate and heinous attack. If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy. He feels justified in punishing the attacker for this moral outrage.

And because he plays by different rules, and because so much is at stake, he can be uninhibited in response. Everyone gets angry when they feel their self-worth is threatened, but for the narcissist, revenge is a holy cause and a moral obligation, demanding overwhelming force.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Utility of Identity, part 1

Four words: Identity, Honor, Ego, Being.

Identity is a set of characteristics, a historical pattern of behavior, the way I look at myself and the world, an abbreviation of my traits.

"He is an asshole."

"He is such a jerk."

"He is a nice man."

"She is forgiving."

And from these adjectives, to: "I like/dislike him/her."

In daily life, split-second decisions have to be made about how much to trust the other person. If people behaved whimsically/randomly on their own, it would be impossible to live without violence/force. Nobody would be able to marry, have kids, put their money in the bank, vote, etc.

A conditioned person, however, is not whimsical. He behaves within bounds (most of the time, at least). The less "free" a person is, the more secure/comfortable is associating/relating with such a person, because you have some idea of how he/she is going to be in the future. Of course, spontaneity about superficial matters (not matters of morality, convictions, etc.) can still exist and can add spice to the relationship.

A "free" person who is being true to himself (i.e. to whatever hormonal/chemical combination his mind/body is having at the moment) without any commitment to longer-term consistency can be quite a pain-in-the-ass to live with. "Yesterday he made plans of going out with me, today he just wants to look at the wall." "Last month he liked this city, now he wants to move out."

When we evaluate or identify a person's character or traits, we create an image in our mind about him. When we meet someone for the first time, we don't expect much. We are cautious, our guard is up, we know that it is possible that he may say/do something surprising/shocking. In a relationship, the sense of comfort is derived by our knowledge/familiarity with the other person. We know that he is likely to snore in the early hours, we know that he takes half an hour in the toilet, we know that he is unlikely to want to go to a nude bar, etc.

This image-making, of course, also happens about ourselves. We know the kind of person we are. Even though, sometimes, we may want to project a different image because what we really are may not be regarded that well in society. For example, a man who is lazy knows that this trait is considered objectionable at the workplace, so he will project an image of being industrious at the interview. This goes on in many other spheres too, of course.

This image-making, or categorization, or a feeling for "what kind of a person he/she is" is essential if we are to navigate life. A person who makes bad relationship or business decisions suffers. A person who makes good decisions prospers. And most of the time, the decisions are about human beings. And human beings don't usually change much through the course of their lives. And even if they do, if they blew their chances in the first few interactions, too bad. It's just too much effort to constantly re-evaluate one's counter-parties, in life, for solvency.

So, this is identity. My traits.

My "honor" is a positive valuation of my identity - by myself as well as by others - and an estimate of how steadfast my identity is. An "honorable" person is one whose identity is consistent with social virtues and ideals, and who can be relied upon to hold on to his identity even in the face of grave temptation or provocation.

A man who is not easily given to drunkenness, angry outbursts, or to debauchery, is trusted more than a man who is an addict, spendthrift, and who beats up his wife. The former man may possibly have all the instincts, he also may get aroused at seeing a half-clad woman, but he fights it out, and wins. "Honor", in Freudian terms, is the history of super-ego's battles with the id.

"Identity" and "Honor" are therefore evaluative constructs which provide for better decision making in human societies. The more communal a society, the more are these constructs useful and important (hence the stress of "what will people say?" in such societies). In institutionalized societies, say Manhattan, what matters is not honor but your immigration record, police record, tax filing status, history of driving violations, employment record, credit score, and so on and so forth.

Needless to say, having "honor" capital, whether institutional or social, is very valuable in human societies. In traditional societies, "honor" is also determined by one's family background, caste or clan, and can also include superstitious markers such as one's "horoscope" or one's physical traits. To have a highly valued identity, i.e. an honorable identity, opens a world of opportunity which a lesser identity can only dream about.

Valid decision making about honor and identity is obviously linked to the amount of experience one has had in life. If an 18-year old daughter of a landlord wants to marry the milkman because she thinks his physical traits are so cute, perhaps her father would want to intervene, as they generally do (and very violently, at times). Her father would justifiably consider her choice of the milk-man as a long term partner as deeply flawed. He knows the tricks men pull, and he is enraged that the milk-man is trying to derive an unfair and undeserved advantage in society by seducing his ignorant daughter. The ignorant daughter is not coolly evaluating the identity of the milk-man, but is lost in the dreams and feelings of affection and love.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Start of Delusion

Here is an exemplary text on starting to seek something Beyond the mundane:
Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It's a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range--at least three clusters of feelings at once:

* the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived; (emphasis mine)

* a chastening sense of one's own complacency and foolishness in having let oneself live so blindly; (emphasis mine)

* and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle. (emphasis mine)
Well, once an intellect is developed enough to see the meaninglessness of life as it is normally lived, there were a few centuries when it could proceed to live abnormally, but meaningfully (hint: spiritually).

That age, my friends, is passe. That comfort is no longer available to advanced brains. God was the only permanence for a while, and it has unfortunately disappeared, leaving perhaps a steady state universe in its wake.

The writer goes on:
...a cup of tea, a walk in the woods, social activism, easing another person's pain ... Never mind that these forms of happiness would still be cut short by aging, illness, and death, he would be told. ... Someone might give him a book by Thoreau or Muir, but their writings would offer him no satisfactory analysis of aging, illness, and death, and no recommendations for how to go beyond them.
Talk about an "absolute" form of happiness that man should strive after, inwardly of course, and you give him a nice, self-serving narcissistic job for a lifetime.
...and open onto Deathlessness...
The awareness of impermanence, when taken to an extreme, does lead to a rather horrid sense of meaninglessness. And no wonder advanced souls retreat into their own bliss after witnessing this horror.

Any seeker who is trying to find some pleasure in fleeting time, gets a kick in the butt. Osho allowed such seekers an amused smile, but that was a difference of strategy, not of the end-goal.
In fact, early Buddhism is not only confident that it can handle feelings of samvega but it's one of the few religions that actively cultivates them to a radical extent.
Not only Buddhism, every religion or spirituality or radical ideologue worth his name has to condemn the normal pleasures of life in order to play the role of pied piper to the la-la land.

Instead of encouraging a reassessment of one's ambitions, they are known to have said, "It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society." (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

How can a normal human wanting to live a better life fit into society when society, and life, and its normal pursuits are so cursed and decried and condemned by these wise men?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dowry and Alimony, two sides of the same coin

No self-respecting educated urbane woman would want to enter a relationship which involves a demand for dowry in exchange for getting married to a man.

But almost all of them not only acquiesce to, but insist upon, alimony when separating from their husbands. Rare is the woman who considers the breakdown of a relationship as a mutual tragedy and does not seek to wreak financial or other vengeance upon her husband.

In India, dowry is considered reprehensible because it demeans a woman by considering her as a liability, but by demanding alimony, women are themselves reinforcing the belief that they are unable to live on their own and need the financial support of a man.

Female infanticide is pervasive because a woman is considered a problematic citizen, in various ways. It behooves a modern woman to be less of a problem for her parents and in-laws by not burdening them with her demands of gifts at the time of matrimony, by not discomforting them with her demands of an expensive and consumerist and hedonist lifestyle during marriage, and by not insisting upon a ghastly amount of alimony when separating. The more women try to treat others' hard-earned money as their right, the more will men hate them and the more will society consider them inauspicious.

In a recent conference in India about the dowry menace, a well-respected elderly lady professor wisely commented that though generally it is the wife's in-laws who are believed to be greedy, nobody considers that many daughters, when they get married, themselves demand a lot of things from their own parents.

The culture of consumerism, easy and disposable money, living for oneself, is perhaps excusable if one is working to sustain one's lifestyle. But if an adult woman, despite being an earning member of society, demands crippling financial favors from her parents at the time of marriage, and demands a huge alimony from her husband when she wants to leave him, I consider that to be a greed licensed by society.

Women are generally believed to be weak, oppressed, victimized. But that is becoming less and less true as they acquire advanced educational degrees, get married to a man of their choosing, have better opportunities in the job market, are career-oriented, contribute to household finances, and participate in how the household should be run. In a modern city, parents educate their daughters so that they may become financially self-sufficient and will not need to play a subordinate role once they are married.

But what happens to such women when their marriage turns sour? They insult their education, their parents, and their status as earning, privileged, urban women when they start indulging in extortionist litigation and legal terrorism against their husbands and in-laws. Such women are no better than those men who demand huge dowry and beat up their wives if their demands are not fulfilled. In fact these women are worse, because they rope in the heavily biased machinery of state to terrorize their husbands and in-laws.

If a man or his family is demanding dowry and if a woman is not comfortable with that, she can choose to leave him and start living separately. No such option exists for a man from whom a vengeful wife is demanding alimony. He will be hounded by the corrupt police force, he will be directed to present himself and his entire family at innumerable court dates, and he will probably lose his home, job and more.

Demanding dowry is a crime. Is demanding alimony also considered a crime? It should be, for a financially self-sufficient woman. If a self-sufficient woman abuses the process of law to blackmail her husband just because their marriage did not work out, she should be deterred. Instead, it is all over the place in urban India these days. Read the papers, visit family courts, visit marital counseling and mediation centers, read the annals of matrimonial litigation. A common theme across them is the demand of huge alimony once a marriage has broken down.

Maintenance is understandable when children are involved, but even in those cases, women fight tooth and nail to deny custody and visitation to the father, from whom they have no compunction in taking money for bringing up their common progeny. If democracies all over the world follow the maxim "No taxation without representation", the fathers' rights movement justly demands "No maintenance without visitation." Instead estranged wives alienate the common children from their father, fill their minds with bitter and hateful thoughts about a man whom they could not get along with, and thus scar the children for life by presenting a warped and devious view of humankind.

A leading professor of a US university was abused no-end by his feminist colleagues when he hinted that a father should also have a say in the birth of a child, because he is legally constrained to maintain that child for a very long time. Women want it their way, and want men to pay for it.

Have these women no shame or dignity left? On one hand they decry mankind as full of pigs and chauvinists and patriarchs, and consider their own gender as much more humane and empathetic. But don't listen to their words, observe their acts. When marriages break down, women leave no stone unturned to paint their former lovers and husbands as demonic, vile, utter blackguards who ostensibly do not deserve any leniency and who should be hanged until death, if such women had their way.

All over India, harassed husbands and fathers and their families are uniting in their fight against these unscrupulous women who call themselves modern and liberated, but who abuse the laws made for dispossessed, destitute, victimized, poor women. Laws for maintenance, laws against domestic violence, laws against dowry harassment, laws against cruelty are being misused day-in and day-out by urbane women from whom no dowry was ever demanded, whose husbands never as much as laid a finger on them, whose husbands treated them as equals.

Even the Supreme Court of India calls this unfortunate trend "Legal Terrorism" but claims helplessness in checking it.

The voices of the real victims are being drowned out by the cacophony of these witches. Too many shepherds are falsely crying wolf too many times for anyone to pay attention when an actual wolf is on the scene.

Such women cannot have it both ways. They cannot condemn men, and in the same breath, demand their help. It is one of the bitterest pills for a husband to swallow when he is ordered to pay his hard-earned money to nourish and support a selfish and greedy wife who has nothing but hate and venom for him. If such women had any self-respect left, they would support themselves with the fruits of their own labour, and not become vengeful parasites.

Dowry is considered an evil because a woman is a human being, and an exchange of money for keeping her alive and healthy is uncivilized. But how civilized is her own demand of post-marital dowry (called alimony) from her husband? Is she suddenly in need of being financially supported by men? If it is considered reprehensible for a woman's father to pay her husband or herself for her sustenance at the time of marriage, is it not reprehensible for a woman's husband to pay her (and for the woman to demand so, public fora) for her continued sustenance once he is no longer married to her?

I consider the demand of alimony from working women a crime and a form of extortion. If husbands refuse to agree to a demand for alimony, I have seen women go to any extent of fabricated allegations of dowry harassment, domestic violence, marital rape, cruelty, and so on. The courts are filled to the brim with civil, quasi-civil and criminal cases filed by these legal terrorists.

But the tide is turning against these women. There is a growing awareness of their greed and extortionist tendencies, and nobody believes their stories anymore. The courts and the police are being repeatedly told not to take their allegations at face value. Of course that also means that genuine complaints also languish. These criminal-minded women have done a grave disservice to their oppressed and genuinely needy gender-folk.